Stage 9 – Door closes on Porte victory while sleeping policeman awakens

Chapeaux Bardet! How many punctures, they were saying around six? He seemed to be chasing the whole day and it looked like he finally got on the GC chain in the closing moments of the stage. A remarkable ride from Bardet and his AG2R team, in particular Oliver Naesen, who managed to get him back on with moments to spare. The other remarkable ride came from Mikel Landa who hit the deck on a nothing bit of road while taking a drink. For a team that are 100% behind Quintana, Movistar sent everyone except Valverde back. I suspect they are still hedging their bets. AG2R need to look at who their tyre sponsor is!

For those who say this sort of racing does not belong in the tour, maybe ask Tom Doumoulin or some other riders, maybe including Quintana. After 2 dull flat stages that had 1 minute of excitement at the end, we had 3 hours of riveting enjoyment. The two most significant crashes happened on flat wide open roads. Sure there were some sore bodies, but look at most of the crashes on the cobbled sections and it looks like the riders end up hitting the deck in the dirt on the side of the road, and not on the bitumen. Ask Richie where he would rather crash…

But the first story of the stage is the comeback of Dega. I hope people watched his post race interview, especially as he looked at his index finger. I had a lump in my throat as I listened to him, knowing the struggles he has gone though. Two and a half years ago Degankolb, and a bunch of his team mates were mowed down by an old English lady driving on the wrong side of the road in Spain. There were many injuries but possibly the worst was the popular German, who almost lost that finger he looked at. It took him a long time to come back, and he was written off by everyone. This was his first World Tour since the accident, and if he never wins another race, it does not matter, he has won again, and the demons are behind him.

The second story was that of BMC. What a great first week with Greg van Avermaet in yellow. But the wheels came off the BMC wagon big style yesterday. Richie Porte crashed in the first 10km doing his collarbone and on stage 9 for the 2nd year in a row. How much bad luck can one guy endure, and still manage a smile? Maybe it is good he changes kit next year for Trek in the hope that a leopard can change his spots. But it got worse when their Plan B, Tejay Van Garderen, crashed and was never really in the game after that. As a plan B, Tejay is not the best as he normally fades in the 3rd week, so maybe that will open BMC for stage victories. However, after the first week, they can come away with a successful tour.

I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying! So I should get on to the tipping comp. No change with the top 2 with Chuck Charity 17 holding Babel off by a single point. Gilbert helped Babel, but not enough. So the first rest day prize of $30 goes to Chuck Charity 17, with $20 going to Babel. A late charge from Team Red Eye gets her into 3rd spot at the Spaniards expense, for the $10 3rd place prize. No change with the bottom 4, with Il Papa holding on to last spot. Biggest mover was Cat Six 3 up 66 spots. Closely followed at 64 points by Stuey and McEpic. The latter closing the gap to Mrs McEpic to 16 points. Did you need to try and bribe me?

So, rest day redraw will happen tonight. For those at the top, stop whining. New teams will be posted tomorrow.


Stages 7 & 8 – Greener Roads for Groenewegen with back to back wins

First of all apologies for not getting a separate report out for Stage 7. I am currently in Alice Springs competing in the MTB Single Speed National Championships. Yesterday was the big “race” and I was successful in not coming last. I feel sorry for those who finished behind a fat old bloke with a broken wrist, and the flu, who has not ridden a bike in 11 weeks. But these nationals are not about the racing, they are about having fun with a bunch of like minded people, oh, and drinking beer…

After the excitement of the Mur de Bretagne and the anticipation of tonight’s stage to Roubaix we had a couple of classic dull stages for the sprinters to contend. As the winner of each stage was the same rider, it seemed appropriate to combine the report. Last years stage winner into Paris got his timing right finally in this tour and comfortably took the win on both days. On stage 7 he outpaced Gavaria and Sagan, then on stage 8 it was Sagan and Dekankolb as Gavaria and Greipel were relegated. Not sure I saw anything in the sprint apart from Sagan headbutting someone for position, but what do I know. The only big news on Stage 8 was a crash with 16km to go that involved Dan Martin. It was a frantic chase for the Irishman, but with the sprint trains winding it up the UAE team really had no chance. They got him back to within 37 seconds, before Quickstep lit the after burners, and in the end he lost 1:15.

The big news over both stages was Mark Cavendish finished in the top 10 on both stages and Kittel seems to have lost his mojo. Cav does not look like he has the legs to compete, and I have no idea what is going on with Kittel.

Tonights stage should be a classic with a run to Roubaix over the fabled cobbles.

In the tipping on Stage 7 there was no change in the top 5 spots with Chuck Charity 17 holding off The Spaniard and Babel. At the bottom, The Doctor finally got some points with Cav’s 10th place, but he remains rooted to the bottom. Big movers were Crazy Ted and Yombek, up 107 places to hit the dizzy heights of 130th.

Stage 8 saw a small shuffle at the top with The Spaniard and Babel swapping places, but Chuck Charity 17 holding firm. With all three with current Paris – Roubaix winner Sagan in their teams it looks like these 3 will take out the first Rest Day prizes on Monday. The difference could be the fact Babel also has Philippe Gilbert, a know specialist in the classics. The Doctor finally lifted himself off the bottom, again thanks to Cav, being replaced by Il Papa. Big mover was Pedro Bartoli, up 63 places to break into the top 100 at 70th spot.

Stage 8 was also Bastille Day and as such the first of our prizes. The team that earned the most points gets $30, 2nd most $20 and 3rd most $10. So our winners are; Pedro Bartoli with 134 points taking out the $30, Superfish 2 getting the $20 and JC and Potator taking out $5 each for a share of the $10 prize.

Bastille Day was also my late fathers birthday. As Oscar Wilde said “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness”. Happy birthday dad…

Stage 6 – All eyes on smiling Irishman

Action is the last refuge of those who cannot dream. And so it was for Irishman Dan Martin as he put behind the nightmares of 3 years ago from the very same climb. Leaving his charge too late the last time the Tour visited the Mur de Bretagne resulted in a disappointing 2nd place. However, for Martin, the action of timing his attack to perfection and holding off a rather annoyed Pierre Latour, gave the Irishman the dream finish he must have been planning all season.

For the rest a bit of a mixed bag. Of the sprinters, Sagan, was strong, nothing new in that newsprint, but he could only manage 8th, but increased his lead in the green jersey competition over Gaviria. Tonight should see that gap close with a flat race to the finish. Maybe Kittel, or some of the other pure sprinters can put some distance between Gavaria and Sagan to close the gap.

My pick Alaphilippe came close, but in the end managed 4th, behind Martin, Latour and Valverde. Majka, Yates and Porte all finished in the front group, with Froome losing a couple of seconds.

For the GC guys the top 10, when we see it on the first real climb will look very different than it did after the first 2 days. All the time that Big Tom, Nibbles and Bardet got over Froome is now gone. Dumoulin ran into Bardet and broke a spoke, did someone say Shimano? In the end he lost all of his 50 seconds advantage, and was then pinged another 20 for excessive drafting behind the team car. Bardet lost time as well, to add to the time lost in the TTT. Nibbles finished strong to not lose any more time other than what he lost in the TTT. I think Landa is now in the best position, but of course he will be expected to ride for Quintana in the mountains. Or will be see a classic internal battle similar to the Stephen Roche v Roberto Visintini in 1987 where another Irishman attacked his own team leader to eventually win the Giro, then follow it up with the Tour de France and World championships.

Greg van Avermaet held on to the Yellow jersey by 3 seconds over Gairaint Thomas who looked strong on the final climb. A couple of flat stages now before we see what unfolds on Sundays anticipated stage to Roubaix, over the cobbles.

A change at the top of the table with Chuck Charity 17 jumping 3 spots over The Spaniard and previous leader Babel. Big mover last night was The Condor, up 109 places from somewhere near the bottom, to somewhere near the middle. Special mention to Orange Cycle Lady 3 and Mrs Sagan 3, teams both owned by one of our US based tipsters, up 107 and 103 spots to hit mid table mediocrity. Finally we have a winner and a bona fide Lantern Rouge. The last team to still be on zero points belongs to The Doctor. Congratulations!

Stage 5 – Sagan soars as Bling bails

Report might be a bit sort today. Between being sick, the Tour and the World cup I am struggling to survive. I feel a bit like Lawson Craddock at the moment, just holding on day by day, hoping the weekend will bring some well needed rest and relief.

To define is to limit, and defining limits on Sagan’s abilities is done at your peril. To be honest I had one of the Quickstep pair of Gilbert or Alaphilippe as my picks for the win, and a move into yellow. Quickstep have no GC contender, although Alaphilippe might one day step up. They are contenting themselves with just winning every race they can. So a stint in yellow must be one of their goals, and tonights stage to Mur de Bretagne could see the aforementioned QS riders achieve just that. But last night it was the Peter Perfect show once again. Greg van Avermaet went too early, as he thought the last band was 250m from the finish, not 350, thus giving a perfect lead out to Sagan who was almost beaten by Sonny Colbrelli. But Sonny ran out of juice as Sagan finished off the sprint.

Bunch of abandons yesterday with Michael “Bling” Matthews leaving with a virus, hopefully he wasn’t rooming With Big Tom. Tiesj Benoot also did not start after finishing the previous stage covered in blood and with a dislocation of his shoulder. Naymar would have just got back up right?

Anyway onto the tipping. Thanks to Sagan, Babel has consolidated his position at the top followed by Team Red Eye and Sicknote 3. Thought I would give the top 3 a mention, especially Team Red Eye as they are one of our Save the Children employees teams, who do such a great job. Big mover of the day was Snow White. Quite remarkable as she has lost Matthews and Kiserlovski and is down to six riders, but Alaphilippe and Skujins did the business for her yesterday. She may have another good outing tonight with Ala. There are only four teams on zero points now, so it is quite the battle to see who can hold out the longest in the Lantern Rouge battle. The Doctor is still getting the nod from the randomiser.

Stage 4 – Colombian keeps powder dry for 2nd stage win

In what was supposed to be the safest sprint in a long time, a 4km drag into Sarzeau, there was yet another crash that ended the Tour for someone. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, or seeing stars. That was certainly the case for Axel Dumont of AG2R. Bunch of stitches to 2 head wounds, but no fractured skull, but a fractured collarbone. Have I mentioned Naymar recently?

But the day belonged to Quickstep Floors. No one helped them all day as they tried to corral the breakaway. A couple of cameo visits to the front from Lotto and Dimension Data, but that   was about all. In fact it made the race pretty exciting as it gave the 4 breakaway compatriots some hope that they might actually stay away. But will 2km to go they were swept up and it was on for another bunch gallop.

With Dimension Data doing the lead-out I was hoping for a showing from likable Manxman Cavendish. But in the end I wonder if we are watching the swansong of possibly the greatest sprinter of all time. His face was a mask of pain in the final 500m and I think he was glad when Gronewegan chopped across in front of him, causing him to protest and sit up. Dimension Data are talking him up still, but I think he is on the canvas. I hope not. Gronewegan got 4th but watching the head on he is lucky, in my opinion, to not be relagated. He went from the right side, across in front on Cav to the left, then back towards the right again. Looked like he changed his sprint line, just a bit.

It was good to see The Gorilla in the mix, as he launched first, but Gavaria was too strong and overhauled him by the line, as did Peter Perfect for 2nd place. It was a fitting victory considering Sagan’s Bora Hansgrohe team did no work to help bring the breakaway back.

After a virtual rest day in the sweepstake it was back to business today. Babel held on to top spot thanks to Sagan. But it is tight at the top. Snicko 2 deserves a mention leaping into the top 5, up 22 spots. Three big mover mentions today with Chuck Charity 3, Nubbie and Arnie all up 119 places. No change at the bottom with the randomizer still ensuring The Doctor holds on to bottom spot. It is a bit rough as he team doesn’t look that bad. However the common factor in the bottom seven teams all on zero points is Mark Cavendish. Who would have though that… The end of an era?

Stage 3 – Sky fall as BMC triumph

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about, and that goes for the Tour de France as well.  With the stage 3 team time trial we were likely to see a bit of a shake up in the GC. After 2 days of crashes that saw many of the GC favourites lose time, it was time for them to claw some of that time back. Going into this stage the big winners were Big Tom, Nibbles, Uran, Bardet, BloodBag Valverde, Zakarin, Thomas, Mollema, Landa, Martin, Roglic and Majka. The biggest losers were Froome, Porte, Yates and Quintana. After the stage, in a discipline that favoured BMC, Sky and Sunweb we would see what unfolded.

There were a few surprises in the top teams. The first, that Sky did not win with 5 national TT champions in it’s team, plus the Olympic bronze medalist in Froome. On paper some might say unbeatable. But they were beaten by a determined BMC team, putting Greg van Avermat into the leaders jersey. Third place went to Quickstep, who dropped Gaviria along the way to post the 3rd best time. The road inspectors, Michelton Scott, boasting at least 3 riders who had hit the deck already, posted the 4th best time. Sunweb came in 5th, losing only 11 seconds, making Big Tom the big winner of the day. Although some might say Geraint Thomas, who is now 4th, was the big winner. But the question will be, will he be called upon to help Froome, or will he be given freedom to ride for himself, something that might be very important on the cobbles on Sunday.Plus, is he good enough in the mountains, some would say not never having posted a top 10 in the Tour.

Ride of the day has to go to EF Education First. 35 seconds down, but keeping Uran ahead of Froome, Porte and Yates in the GC. But it was not about Uran that made this a great story, but Lawson Craddock. He not only rode the TTT, but contributed to the turns and only dropped away towards the end. Hopefully this is not a story similar to the Tyler Hamilton one of 2003.

A couple of corrections on my questionable reporting. TTT start order. I got it wrong. They went off in team order position, not GC rider position, except for Yellow jersey holder Sagans team. Also, Sky’s, Bernal, I said he was an unknown TT quality, well he is the Colombian national champ, maybe I should do my research. Then again it would have just been a race with him, Uran and Quintana.

No news on the sweepstake today. No points on offer for the TTT, and after reading my sketchy notes on how to calculate a TTT prize I wimped out as it looks too hard. I do have to do some work today!

Actually, let me give a mention to yesterdays biggest mover(s) as I know a mention in the report is all most of you can hope for. So kudos to Puffy and Ride ’em Hard for a jump of 168 places. Normal service will be resumed tonight as we hit the sprint train once again.

Stage 2 – Peter Perfect pips Colbrelli

I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability. However in the case of Peter Sagan, I suspect he surpassed himself. Maybe Sagan was a little fortunate today, with a crash in the final 2km that took out Gavaria. Plus Sonny Colbrelli finally realized his potential and almost got Sagan on the line. There were reminders of Stage 4 last year when Sagan callously took out Mark Cavendish, as John Dekankolb raised his hand in protest. But on review it looked like a good clean sprint from Peter Perfect. I think Dekankolb was complaining about the jet draft as Sagan went past him!

The stage 1 recipient of the “Close Ground Inspection Award” Lawson Craddock managed to remount today with a “minor” fracture to his scapula and a bunch of stitches above his eye. He managed to finish the stage but will suffer in the TTT tonight. However Luis Leon Sanchez was not so lucky yesterday, as he hit the deck hard. His elbow looked like it had been put into a meat grinder, and he looked in some discomfort. But he signaled to get a bike off the team car. It was only when he tried to hold the bars and mount the bike that his body said no. He withdrew with 4 broken ribs and a fractured elbow. Maybe Naymar Jr needs to start watching some cycling footage about how to make falling over a bit more spectacular.

Also, what is it with British riders hitting the deck. Geraint Thomas has a reputation for performing close ground inspections, although has managed to stay on his bike for 2 days so far this tour. Other British riders not so much. Adam Yates from Aussie team Michelton Scott has hit the deck each day, although they look to be minor falls. Chris Froome, who is only somewhat British, has has to pick grass out of his teeth once already, hopefully he does not have to do the same when they hit the cobbles on Sunday. The Aussies haven’t fared much better, with West Aussie Luke Durbridge adding to his scab count yesterday and Heinrich Haussler checking if a barrier would actually work if you hit it at 40kph. Both barrier and Haussler survived the test.

I suspect tonight’s Team Time Trial will see the end of Sprinters wearing the Maillot Jeaune, unless Quickstep can live up to expectations as one of the best TT squads in the world. I suspect Sky may take it out, although with Bernal hitting the deck on stage 1, and his TT quality unknown, they may have to wait for him. Thomas took a leaf out of Naesens play book yesterday and took a 1 second bonus in the final intermediate sprint. This moved up from 15th to 6th, so that means Sky go 6th last in the TTT. Very smart move for no energy wasted.

On to the sweep-stake. First of all can those slack payers get your cash into my account or paypal. I have a long weekend racing at the MTB Single Speed Nationals this weekend in Alice Springs and I need beer money. Things start to take shape on stage 2 providing me with a bit more banter material. We already have a clear leader in the comp, with Babel sneaking to the top just ahead of Chuck Charity 17. But it is tight at the top already. Last year we had to wait quite a number of days for the bottom of the table to sort itself out. This year I think it might only take another day or two, with only seven teams on zero points. Due to the marvels of randomizing, The Doctor can have the first mention as our Lantern Rouge.

Tonight is a Team Time Trial. I used to give a prize for the TTT, but it got too hard to work out. That may still be the case, although I will have a review in the morning. As the TTT hasn’t run in a few years that code might have got a bit rusty.

Stage 1 – Gavaria flashes to victory.

Well it’s started, and we weren’t disappointed with drama from what was shaping up to be a text book sprint stage until 10km to go. It was obviously going to be a sprint finish with the big boys shaping up for their first show down. It was a tailor made stage for Sagan or Matthews with a bit of an uphill finish, but 1st time tour rider Fernando Gavaria, and my pick for the win, did not disappoint after an absolutely perfect lead out from his Quickstep team. Once he hit the front there was no catching him. Poster boy Sagan had a crack, but did not quite have the legs. Kittle did well to get 3rd after a quiet season. He left Quickstep last year because he was worried Gavaria might get the tour berth ahead of him. So it must really hurt to be beaten by his ex team mate, and now nemesis.

The very essence of the romance of the Tour is the uncertainty of what might happen. 10km to go and the gods of chaos came out to play.First it was an innocuous crash that delayed Richie Port and Adam Yates. The Froome came off on a bend, managed to get back on and join the Porte/Yates group. Then Quintana has a double wheel puncture, possibly on a bunch of tacks meant for Chris Froome. In the end the big GC winners were Big Tom Dumoulin, Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Rigoberto Uran and Ilnur Zakarin who all finished on the same time as the winner. Porte, Yates and Froome lost 50 seconds and Quintana 1:15. This situation has played really well for Mikel Landa. With Movistar coming in to Le Tour with 3 leaders something had to happen to focus their attention on one rider. Valverde will still thinks he has a chance but can’t climb like Landa, so finally Landa might get his chance at the expense of Quintana. It is not then end of the world for Sky though. With the Team Time Trial on Monday, and with 3 current/previous National TT champions in their team, they should get back the 50 seconds they are down.

An interesting tactical observation made by Robbie. For the last intermediate sprint Oliver Naesen from AG2R went up the road and got the last bonus second. It was enough at the finish to put him in 4th place overall at the end of the day. That means AG2Rs team car is 4th in the convoy. That means if Bardet has a problem his car will be there really quick. In contrast Team Sky are in 15th place.

It was also a bit of a flashing day for those who watched the TV coverage. About 20km to go a couple of cheeky fellas were mooning the cameras as the race went by. But stage winner Gavaria topped it by showing all his junk while getting a rub down before he went on stage, and with a cheeky grin.

So enough of my expert analysis, on to the sweep-stake. First of all, for those who noticed, I only displayed 6 riders per team in the team list. Bug fixed now, and your 8 team riders are now displayed. It’s a bit early in the comp to start picking on people, but we have 2 early leaders with Heartthrobs10 and Rocky Laurie. Race needs a couple of days to settle down before we see some shape to the table.

TdF Stage 21 – No road to green for Groenewegen, but Champs Elysee stage saves tour.

Not sure why the coverage was so late last night, but I managed to stay up and watch the usual backslapping, champagne drinking tomfoolery that precedes the 58km of madness around the Champs Elysee. With Kittel at home watching on TV it was an open race for many contenders. Greipel was favorite, but has looked a bit out of form, Matthews I did not think would figure as already wearing green there were more hungry sprinters out there. Bouhanni is rubbish. My pick was Dekankolb, only because I can find a cheesy headline easily for him. Then there was Kristoff, past it, and Groenewegen. It was the young Dutch sprinter who wanted it more than anyone else and he surprised the others, mainly Greipel, by going at 300m to go. He got the jump and even though Greipel finished fast, he missed out yet again.

There was a bit of controversy around the awarding or the Prix Combative. It went to Barguil when the rest of the world thought it should go to Thomas de Gendt. Thomas spent over 1000km in breakaways, and I think I gave him a mention the other day just for that. But the jury of 6 (5 French) though Barguil should get it. After reading various opinions, I am in two minds. They both animated the race, with both of them going for KOM points. Barguil was more successful in that so maybe he deserved it. But De Gendt was in 11 breaks to Barguils 4, and he tried to get in to 4 more. Either way Lotto should be pleased with the TV coverage they received from the Belgian, and the fact more people are talking about this now than would have if he had won it.

So the final daily points have been allocated. For the newbies that is not the end. Over the next day or so teams will also be allocated points for riders positions in the Yellow, Green and spotty jersey competitions. So the final leader after 21 stages is Heartthrobs01, with SuperFish losing some ground thanks to EBH and Bouhanni getting 3rd and 4th for Heartthrobs01. It will be a tight finish once the jersey points are allocated. Final big mover mention for the stages goes to Gordo 2, up from 151st to 101st. Dai the Kilt must be getting tired of the daily mention for the Lantern Rouge, but with Snicko5 on the hunt for the prize money, this could be his last mention. It will be tight at the bottom as well…